It’s the battle that has everyone talking – Lewis Hamilton vs Sebastian Vettel for the 2017 F1 World Championship. As all eyes were focused on the duo following their Azerbaijan scuffle, Valtteri Bottas quietly got on with the job to take his second pole and second win of the season. Is it time we start to see the Finn as a genuine contender for this year’s Championship? Lights Out investigates…
Ahead of the season, many were prepared for Bottas to be trounced by his more experienced Mercedes team-mate and take the number two driver role. He hasn’t. Valtteri has done a very respectable job against the three time World Champion. In fact Lewis Hamilton has even said that Bottas is having a better season than him. Do the stats agree?
If we take a look at the most consistent qualifier, it’s a close call between Vettel and Bottas:
Vettel has the best average grid slot from the championship contenders, having only started away from the front row of the grid on two occasions this year. While Hamilton has had the most poles, he also started fourteenth in Monaco. After a dire qualifying session, in which he seemed unable to put a lap together, he was ultimately halted in Q2 by Stoffel Vandoorne’s crash at the Swimming Pool complex. This means that the next best qualifier is Valtteri Bottas, who hasn’t started outside of the top three so far this year – a fact which is not true of the two main championship protagonists.
Bottas has out-qualified his team-mate four out of nine times so far this year – more often than many would have probably expected him to.
While Bottas’ streak looks more consistent, he hasn’t been able to mix with the top two as regularly as you may expect from a genuine title contender. However, his two pole positions prove that, on his day, he is a very quick driver. He has finished second and on pole in the last two races, so perhaps his qualifying form is on an upward trend.
From their last eight combined starts, Vettel and Hamilton have been on the podium just three times between them. Bottas has been on the podium in all three of the three last races.
In both of his race victories, Bottas has withstood immense pressure from Vettel throughout the race. He won by 0.617 seconds in Sochi, and by 0.658 seconds at the Red Bull Ring. Both of his Grand Prix wins have been helped by lightning getaways. He went from third to first by the first turn in Russia, while in Austria his start was so fast that two of his rivals thought he’d jumped the lights. Granted, Bottas didn’t have to do much in Austria after his start, other than overtake Kimi Raikkonen after his pit stop, but the fact that he remained cool as the race went down to the wire says a lot about the Finn’s character.
It is worth noting too that without Bottas’ retirement in Spain, he would be near to equal to his team-mate on points. Bottas is now closer to Hamilton in the championship than Hamilton is to Vettel. While Bottas has had a DNF, Hamilton and Vettel have not. If luck evens out, as it so often does over the course of a season, things could get tight between the top three. If Hamilton and Vettel retire from the next race and Bottas wins, the new championship order would be:
- Vettel – 171 points
- Bottas – 161 points
- Hamilton – 151 points
With two poles and two wins from his first nine races with the team, Bottas’ seat at Mercedes looks pretty secure. James Allison has hailed him, saying: “He’s utterly, utterly calm at all points and just removes any kind of psychodrama from the weekend. Which is a great benefit for the team. He’s got a very tidy turn of speed as we’ve seen, he’s very reliable, and we’re very fortunate to have him.”
A cool head, raw speed and consistency are three key elements for an F1 champion. Valtteri has proven himself as a well-rounded driver and it will be interesting to se just how much closer he can get to the leading pair as the championship goes on.
An Alternative Championship Rival?
It’s very possible that the championship may yet end up being a four-way fight. Daniel Ricciardo has scored the joint most points of anyone over the last five Grands Prix. He’s stood on the podium five times in a row – the longest podium streak thus far in his career. Red Bull are gathering momentum and were able to compete between the two pairs of battling Mercedes and Ferraris in Austria. Of course, Red Bull’s position in the Constructors’ Championship is skewed by Max Verstappen’s bad luck and unreliability, which has seen him fail to finish in five of the last seven races.
If the Championship had started in Spain, Vettel and Ricciardo would be in the lead of the championship on equal points, with Vettel in first place due to him having more second place finishes than Ricciardo:
The British Grand Prix could be a pivotal moment in the championship. Lewis Hamilton could take his fourth consecutive win at Silverstone and bridge the gap to Sebastian Vettel or, converesley, he could have another shaky weekend and be overtaken by his team-mate in the championship order. It’s all to play for at Silverstone.
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I still think that over the course of this season, the championship will go down to being between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. That’s not to say that Bottas isn’t doing an impressive job, though. Both Hamilton and Vettel have experience of fighting for titles before, whereas Bottas doesn’t. That will ultimately be a disadvantage to him in his first title bid. Bottas’ title charge may be helped if Mercedes begin out-performing Ferrari at every race, but even then I think Lewis will have the upper hand over the course of the season. A straight title fight between Hamilton and Bottas, like we saw so many times between Hamilton and Rosberg, would nevertheless be intriguing. If Bottas can win this championship, it will be quite a feat against two of the best drivers of their generation.